Catonsville fifth-graders step out of comfort zone, on to dance floor

More than 100 fifth-grade students at Hillcrest Elementary School took a step out of their comfort zone last week. During a week of classes, the students learned the merengue, tango, swing and cha-cha dances from visiting dance instructor Caitlin Foley.

The sessions are reserved for the oldest students at the school because they are getting ready to move on to middle school where they will be going to dances, said Suzie Henneman, a dance resource teacher with the county.

"They're (the lessons) are a galvanizing thing for their class," said Henneman, who checked out the progress of the lessons at five different county schools last week, including the program at Hillcrest.

The hour-long sessions in the Hillcrest gymnasium were led by Foley and Henneman added some assistance when she stopped by last week.

Though Foley had only recently graduated from Towson University with her teaching certificate, the students took to her immediately, Henneman said.

"They loved her," she said. "Now, she's been teaching ballroom (dancing) for a while, but not necessarily to 100 fifth-graders.

"The first day, they're very nervous. They have to dance with a partner," said Henneman, a dance resource teacher since 1999 who has been teaching for the county for 34 years. "But by the end of the week, they are so excited about it.

"I think the biggest surprise is how much the kids appreciate it at the end," Henneman said. "They really seem to be transformed.

"Also, the classroom teachers tell us there is such a change in their behavior," she said on the increased level of respect teachers said their pupils show for each other.

"The swing is their favorite," she said. "But it's interesting how much they take to the tango. It's such a serious dance. But they love the dance."

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